West Virginia Center for Civic Life

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The West Virginia. Center for Civic Life is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that helps engage our citizens in community discussions of important public issues that affect our state and nation.

Think. Talk. Act.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is deliberative democracy?

Deliberative democracy is a system of political decision-making that relies on public discussion to make policy. Deliberative democracy requires people to come together and talk--to deliberate about common problems in the context of a deliberative forum-- instead of merely voting for candidates to represent them.  Action then follows talk.

Deliberation opens people up to new ways of thinking about community issues.  It creates new opportunities for cooperation and collaboration. Deliberation helps people to see new possibilities.

The goal behind deliberation is not merely to draw a crowd and fill a room with opinionated people. The purpose is much bigger and more powerful. When citizens deliberate about an issue and when a community has a habit of asking citizens to make choices, the directions that are chosen are often better and they have a legitimacy that simply doesn't exist otherwise. Citizens take ownership of problems. They talk about what they can do, not what others ought to do. They act out of a sense of mission and passion.

Communities in a democracy are healthier when citizens are doing the work of citizens. We often think of politics as the responsibility of government officials and our elected representatives. But at its best, politics should embrace every citizen as the primary driving force behind the decision-making process.

What are deliberative forums?

Deliberative forums are meetings where citizens with a variety of perspectives come together to determine a course of action to help resolve a problem facing them. 

How does a deliberative forum work?

At a deliberative forum, with the help of a neutral moderator, citizens talk together, explore options, weigh each other’s views, and consider costs and trade-offs of various solutions.  Deliberative forums follow a five-step process:

  1.  Better understand the problem from the varying perpectives of the forum participants
  2.  Examine different approaches for addressing the problem
  3.  Weigh the benefits and trade-offs of each approach
  4.  Identify common ground, as well as concerns that need further discussion
  5.  Explore possible actions that can be taken by the individuals present and as a group

How does the West Virginia Center for Civic Life work?

  • We consult with groups of citizens throughout West Virginia who want to use the principles of deliberative democracy to solve community problems.
  • We organize and convene deliberative forums on public policy issues important in West Virginia. 
  • We develop written issue guides, and compile statewide reports.  In the past, we have worked on such diverse issues as:
    • How best to support West Virginia working families in hard economic times
    • How to create opportunities for young adults in West Virginia
    • How to encourage healthy weights among West Virginia Youth
    • How to define the 21st century mission for West Virginia Public Schools
    • How to define the public's role in public education
    • How to fill West Virginia's health care cracks

Does the Center offer training in the process of deliberative democracy?

Yes.  We conduct workshops such as the annual Civic Life Institute to teach people how to convene, moderate, and record deliberative public forums that build capacity to work in communities on common problems.  In these workshops:

  • Moderators learn how to ask probing questions about the consequences and trade-offs of various approaches to a complex public issue, while remaining neutral.
  • Recorders learn how to capture insights from forums so that communities can use these insights to build plans for addressing problems.
  • Convenors learn how to reach out to diverse segments of the community to ensure that a broad cross section of the community is involved in discussing issues together.